Social media in business can be effective but dangerous

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“Social media is becoming very powerful in Kenya, especially if you look at a social media platform like Twitter, with this formation of this group that call themselves Kenyans on Twitter, having been very influential in many areas especially in business,” Mugendi told CNBC Africa on Tuesday.

“Businesses are not taking this for granted and we’ve seen a lot of them coming on board and using social media very effectively to market their brands.”

Because of the ease of mobile phone connectivity and access to the internet, a number of regions in Africa don’t have many fixed telephone lines in certain areas but have a significantly high number of mobile phones.

As a result of growing mobile penetration in Africa, companies such as Kenyan network operator Safaricom has tapped into the unbanked portion of the population with their mobile money product M-PESA.

“Because the traditional infrastructure has not been there, these problems are being solved in very African ways. We’ve had to innovate in order to overcome the infrastructure issues and I think that makes Africa quite unique in its approach to the internet, to social media and others,” said social media expert Ryan Hogarth.

As the business imperative for social media in Africa and the rest of the world strengthens, so does its legal aspect. There have been a number of court cases based on defamatory and offensive information shared on popular social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.

In some cases, employees have been dismissed because of offensive and inappropriate conduct on personal social media accounts.

“There is no new law which applies to social media, it’s really just a question of how the existing laws apply to the online space. Obviously we have a jurisdictional problem because what I upload here on Twitter is accessible around the globe,” said social media law consultant Emma Sadlier.

“So where companies are specifically targeting countries in Africa, particularly for marketing, they need to be completely au fait with the laws in that country. It’s really just a question of making sure that you are aware about what restrictions may apply.”

Zimbabwe, for example, has a law prohibiting citizens from insulting the president and offenders could be arrested and charged.  

 “Companies are beginning to realise that social media is effective and at the same time dangerous if not used correctly,” said Mugendi.